Steelhead Season Remains
by Eric Barker
Many mistakenly believe otherwise; fisheries' release slightly better forecast
Bad news travels quickly and sometimes gets twisted as it permeates the public's consciousness.
Take the recent closures of steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River and the Snake River downstream of the Couse Creek boat ramp as an example. It's bad news for sure, but it doesn't mean all steelhead fishing is closed. However that is the message many people have received.
"Most people think it's closed," said Toby Wyatt, owner of Real Time Fishing.
Roy Akins, owner of Rapid River Outfitters at Riggins, has experienced the same thing. Akins said most of his clients have told him they heard from others that all steelhead fishing was closed. He said even some people in Riggins think the seasons on the Salmon and Little Salmon Rivers were included in the closure.
"We are kind of in triage mode. The numbers on our bookings are down," he said. "It sounds like a lot of people in the Boise Valley think the whole season is closed. I tell them we are open on the Salmon River."
The steelhead closure pertains to the Clearwater and its tributaries and the Snake River downstream of the Couse Creek boat ramp. Fishing for steelhead is open on the Snake River upstream of Couse Creek and on the Salmon, Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers.
The bag limits on those rivers have been reduced to one fish per day because of low numbers of fish. But fisheries managers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon expect enough steelhead to return to meet hatchery spawning goals and provide for some fishing opportunity.
A better forecast, but not good enough
Fisheries managers in the Columbia River Basin delivered a tiny sliver of good news about the otherwise dismal steelhead run.
The biologists representing state, tribal and federal fisheries agencies modestly increased their steelhead forecast last week, including the much talked about B-run. According to the latest data, the managers collectively known as the Technical Advisory Committee now expect 72,000 steelhead to return to the Columbia River and its tributaries, up from 69,000. Included in that number is a new forecast calling for 6,300 B-run fish, of which 4,200 will be of hatchery origin and 2,100 wild fish.
An earlier forecast called for only about 4,500 B-run steelhead, including just 2,800 hatchery fish. The forecast for hatchery steelhead was so low that fisheries managers closed the Clearwater River and its tributaries and the Snake River downstream of the Couse Creek boat ramp to steelhead fishing.
The increased forecast, however, is not large enough to reopen the areas closed to fishing. Fisheries officials in Idaho and Washington called for the closures when it became clear too few steelhead would return to Clearwater River hatcheries to meet spawning goals, known as brood stock.
To make matters worse, about half of the hatchery B-run steelhead returning this year are bound for the South Fork of the Clearwater River where there is no trap to efficiently collect them for spawning.
"It's really uncertain how many of those fish we are going to be able to get our hands on. Every uptick helps, but not enough to get us out of the hole we are in," said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise. "We are so far in the hole it doesn't change the necessity of the management action."
In an effort to boost collection, some steelhead bound for the Clearwater River are being intercepted at Lower Granite Dam and trucked to Dworshak Hatchery. Hebdon said about 123 have been trapped at the dam so far this fall.
Poor Steelhead Returns will Likely Impact Small Towns that Bank on Anglers by Eric Barker, Coeur d'Alene Press, 9/6/18
The Grim Outlook for Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead by Yancy Lind, Lewiston Tribune, 9/18/19
With A-Run Steelhead Not Living Up to Predictions, Fish Managers Downgrade Forecast by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 8/31/19
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